Naomi and Ruth come to Bethlehem:
The Book of Ruth is revered for its messianic typologies in both Judaism and Christianity. The setting is in the city of Bethlehem, the future birthplace of both King David, the messianic precursor, and to the future messiah, Jesus. Ruth and Naomi, “So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem.” (Ruth 1:19) Ruth is a pagan Moabite woman but makes a dramatic confession of faith in the God of Israel: “But Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16) Ruth is much like Rahab, who abandoned her paganism and idolatry and sided with Israel and their God, Yahweh.
The Courtship of Ruth and Boaz, and the Eucharist:
The pagan Moabite woman Ruth meets Boaz, a saintly man from Bethlehem, and then, begins their marital courtship. This begins with eating bread and wine: “Come here, and eat some bread, and dip your morsel in the wine.” (Ruth 2:14) Ruth ate of the grain and bread and the wine, “and she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.” (Ruth 2:14) This language is strikingly similar to Jesus’ miraculous feeding of five thousand with the multiplication of the loaves of bread, “And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.” (Mt. 14:20) Boaz is the potential bridegroom giving his potential bride bread and wine to eat to satisfy her. Jesus is the divine Bridegroom who gives His bride the bread and wine of the Eucharist to feed His Church. The love and courtship of Ruth and Boaz mirrors the love and courtship of Christ for His Church. Ruth was a type of the Church, forsaking her pagan past of the Gentiles and embracing the true faith of God of Israel.
Ruth and Boaz at the Threshing Floor, types for the Church and Jesus:
Naomi devises a plan for Ruth to go meet Boaz down on the threshing floor as he is wrapping up the day’s barley harvest. She is seeking the marriage betrothal of Ruth and Boaz. Naomi tells Ruth, “See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor.” (Ruth 3:2-3) The barley harvest was marked in Israel’s liturgical calendar with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was the liturgical feast that Jesus instituted the Eucharist in the Last Supper, and transformed the bread into His Body and the wine into His Blood. The setting for the marriage betrothal courtship between Ruth and Boaz then was a foreshadowing to the Eucharist banquet, the future wedding supper of the Lamb. St. John used the same language in describing Jesus, comparable to Boaz: “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the granary, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Mt. 3:12) John the Baptist describes Jesus as the harvester with a “winnowing fork” clearing the “threshing floor”gathering His wheat.
Ruth’s Preparations and Baptism:
Naomi tells Ruth to prepare for the wedding betrothal as Boaz, the potential bridegroom, is winnowing barley at the threshing floor. She tells Ruth to “wash”and “anoint herself,”and then, “put on your best clothes.” Ruth, the potential bride, was to wash and anoint herself. This was a foreshadowing to the Sacrament of Baptism, where one is washed in the holy waters of Christ’s sanctifying grace, and anointed with His holy oil. The baptized are made new creations in the water and oil of the sacrament. Their souls are washed clean, and have put on new pure white clothes for their souls. These are the pure fine white linens of the saints in Heaven.
Spread Your Wing, Marriage Betrothal, and Christ, our Kinsman Redeemer:
Ruth sneaks up to Boaz in the night and lies down next to him on the threshing floor as he slept. Boaz wakes up to discover a woman at his feet, but unaware of who it was at first. Ruth replies to Boaz: “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the wing of your cloak over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9) To “spread your wing” of your garment over someone was a betrothal ritual in ancient Israel, which had allusions to martial intimacy. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God betrothing Israel by spreading His cloak over her: “I passed by you again and saw that you were now old enough for love. So I spread the corner of my cloak over you to cover your nakedness; I swore an oath to you and entered into covenant with you—oracle of the Lord God—and you became mine.” (Ez. 16:8) Ruth was asking Boaz to take her in marriage betrothal, with obvious erotic tension. Many biblical translations, such as the RSV, obscure the truer meaning of the word “next kinsmen,” when its literal meaning is “redeemer.” The Hebrew word is “gaal”(גאל) meaning, “to redeem, buy back, act as closest kinsman.” The levirate marriage was when the next-in-line brother-in-law would “redeem” and marry the widow of his brother and raise the children. Ruth was confessing the Boaz was her redeemer. The next-in-line “kinsman-redeemer” literally purchased the life of the widow for health and safety. This was a prefigurement to the Church confessing that Jesus would be her Redeemer. Christ is our “kinsman-redeemer” who purchased for us the rewards of eternal life. Jesus used the same phrase when He lamented that Jerusalem would not accept His marriage betrothal: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Lk. 13:34)
Boaz defers for the next closest Kinsman, and John the Baptist:
At this point, Boaz obviously was taken by Ruth and wanted to marry her, but he decides to adhere to proper Israel custom, saying: “Now, I am in fact a redeemer, but there is another redeemer closer than I.” (Ruth 3:12) Boaz decides to give this next closest kinsman a chance to marry her first. In this instance, the unnamed next closest relative prefigures St. John the Baptist, as the Jews were taken by him and asked if he was the Messiah. John the Baptist was the “best man” and not the Bridegroom himself, so he too deferred to the Jews, saying a closer kinsman was yet to arise to marry them. John the Baptist, much like the unnamed closest kinsman, confessed to the Jews that he would step aside for the true Bridegroom, the closest Kinsman-Redeemer: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn. 3:29-30) John the Baptist defers the “marriage betrothal” to Israel in favor of the true Bridegroom, Christ, who would marry humanity.
Thong of Whose Sandal and Marriage Betrothal:
St. Isidore of Seville made this connection: “Just as he [the unnamed relative who refused to marry Ruth] told her he was not her kinsman but then afterwards Ruth was united with Boaz, so Christ, who is the true bridegroom of the church, whom the sayings of all the prophets proclaim, was deemed worthy, from all Gentile nations, to claim the Church, to present to God the Father unnumbered people throughout the whole orb of the world, because his kinsman took off the sandal.” Removing the sandals of the bride was an ancient custom regarding the transferring of the bride. St. John the Baptist makes this marital connection as he stated he was not worthy to remove the thong of the Messiah’s sandal: “even He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (Jn. 1:27) St. John the Baptist confesses, like the unnamed kinsman to Boaz, that he was not worthy to marry, i.e., transfer the sandal, the bride, the Church, or the prefigurement of Ruth. In the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, he removes and transfers her sandal: “Now it used to be the custom in Israel that, to make binding a contract of redemption or exchange, one party would take off a sandal and give it to the other. This was the form of attestation in Israel. So the other redeemer, in saying to Boaz, “Acquire it for yourself,” drew off his sandal.” (Ruth 4:7-8)
The Marriage of Ruth and Boaz, and their son Obed, and the Lineage of Jesus:
Boaz accepted Ruth as his wife in marriage saying, “I will act as redeemer.”(Ruth 4:4) In the town of Bethlehem, Ruth and Boaz were married and came together as husband and wife. And, Ruth bore him a son in Bethlehem: “Blessed is the Lord who has not failed to provide you today with a redeemer. May he become famous in Israel!” (Ruth 4:14) The son born in Bethlehem was a prefigurement to the son, Jesus, who would later be born in Bethlehem and become the Redeemer of His people, Israel, and the whole world: “They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:17) Obed would become the father of Jesse, and then, the grandfather of David. David was the messianic prefigurement and lineage to Mary and the Messiah-Redeemer, Jesus. Ruth, the pagan-Moabite woman, who converted to Judaism, became a mother in the Messianic lineage of Jesus Christ. Her son Obed, born in Bethlehem, would herald the prophetic type of another son, Jesse, and then, the messianic type of King David, also born in Bethlehem. Jesus, born in Bethlehem, became known under the messianic title “Son of David.”
Bergsma and Pitre summarize the Book of Ruth as such: “in stark contrast to the book of Judges, demonstrating that during this anarchic period of Israel’s history, there was one place where true piety toward the Lord continued to be practiced: Bethlehem. Out of this idyllic community, from a noble Israelite (Boaz) and a virtuous Gentile (Ruth), will arise David, the good king so strongly desired at the end of the book of Judges. A short romance of great charm and elegance, the book of Ruth’s spiritual sense speaks of the nuptial relationship of Christ with the Church and of the individual believer with Christ though the messianic wedding banquet of the Eucharist.” (p.350)